Is the Natyanjali Dance Festival circuit in Tamil Nadu turning out to be a stage for mushrooming dance schools?
Yes is the answer if you take a good look at the invite cards of the hosts and sit through one evening's programme at Chidambaram or Kumbakonam or Tanjore.
The Natyanjali began as a tribute, a celebration of the Lord. It expanded - as the 'dancing in temples' concept got a boost from interested hosts. The festival held inside the Lord Nataraja temple in Chidambaram was well organized and this inspired many others. But now that every other lord Sivan temple with a committed host and decent sponsorship is staging a festival at Sivaratri time, the pressures and tugs from local dance 'academies' are getting stronger and persistent. And the host cannot brush them away.
One recent evening at Sri Kumbeswarar Temple in Kumbakonam. The opening recital features a group of seven ten-year-olds. A teenager performs a solo. Thereafter, a dozen plus teens take the stage. The teacher of the local academy, standing on the sidelines tells me that some 25 children are taking part, that the academy offers art, dance, music, chess and six more activities.
I am given a visiting card. It says the academy's other wing also arranges shows for weddings and socials.
Academies in small towns have to run a business. They must say alive. I later learn that some 600 kids attend classes at the many branches of this academy. Learning different hobby pursuits. One is Bharatanatyam.
It is past 11 p.m. at the Sri Panchanadeeswarar (Aiyarappar) Temple in Thiruvaiyaru. The multi-pillared space around the sanctum resounds to the high-decibel rolls of the mridangam and clanking of salangais. Some fifty little dancers are all around us.
A team of teens from Pattukottai performs; then follows a group of girls doing the kavadi.
Tagging along are parents and relatives. This must be a touring group of 80 or 90 people, the little dancers included.
All of them sit down for a simple 'tiffin' the hosts provide. But they didn't plan for 80; they ordered food for 20 dancers!
Imagine the host treasurer's fate this weekend!
Dancers come from the corners of Tamil Nadu's districts. The gurus are pushy; this is their stage. The child-dancers are pumped up and bright-eyed. How can these groups not be given the stage at Natyanjali then?
Prof. Rama Kausalya, a wellknown musicologist and resident of Thillasthanam, near Thiruvaiyaru says while it is good to broadbase the Natyanjali stage, curation that features a few senior dancers and groups and a few slots offered by rotation to district-level students will make an impressive dance festival in temples.
So the hosts of Brahanatyanjali at Sri Brihadeswarar Temple in Thanjavur have found a way out. Scheduling two district troupes at the fag end of the five-day fest schedule ; 8.30 to 9.30 p.m. But they must respect the time gong.
"Local academies want this stage and we cannot say no," says co-ordinator S. Muthukumar."But curation of the day's recitals is important too."
And he points to the impressive recital of guru-dancer Pradeep and his three sishyas, from the Gulf.
But the Sivaratri circuit is sharpening local dance academies to the opportunity; the big stage they can arrange at the Natyanjali for eager parents. It comes with a cost for the community; make-up and costume, bus hire fee, snacks and publicity expense.
So what is the nature of the path that the Natyanjali must/can take in this scenario?
- By Vincent D' Souza/ KutcheriBuzz